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Indonesia Is Considering a Ban on Alcohol

The largely Muslim country is debating a law that would ban the production, sale, and distribution of drinks containing more than 1 percent alcohol.

by Phoebe Hurst
16 August 2016, 4:19pm

Photo via Flickr user Trent Strohm

Alongside the flavourful peanut sauce, gado-gado, sticky rice, and noodle soups, Indonesia's food and drink offerings include a whole array of booze. Anker and Bintang beer are both produced in the country, as well as the mysterious arak moonshine and a fermented rice wine known as brem.

But this could be set to change as the largely Muslim Southeast Asian island nation considers introducing a law that would ban the production, sale, and distribution of drinks containing more than 1 percent alcohol.

READ MORE: Drinking Beer Just Got a Lot More Difficult in Indonesia

The bill has been suggested by two of the country's Islamic parties, the United Development Party and the Prosperous Justice Party, and will be debated by the Indonesia House of Representatives in the coming weeks.

Speaking to news.com.au, president of the Indonesia Institute NGO Ross Taylor explained the thinking behind the proposed law, saying that religion isn't the only driving force. He explained: "There's a lot of people in Indonesia right now taking the view—and they might not be wrong—that if you look at the Western world, and what alcohol is doing to young people, we don't want that in Indonesia and we want to ban alcohol [...] The problem, of course, is if you ban it, you then create this enormous black market and it causes a whole lot of other problems."

He's not wrong. While the law could include allowances for travellers or religious rituals, the idea of an out-right ban on booze has caused upset among Indonesia's tourism and hospitality industries. Both make money from boozed-up travellers, many from nearby Australia who come to visit the "party island" of Bali. (Think Magaluf but with more Aussie accents and dudes in vests)

Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association head Hariyadi Sukamdani told Indonesian newspaper Jakarta Post: "If the bill is passed, our business will be done. The tourists [...] drink alcohol all the time. It will be very inconvenient for them if they can't find alcohol."

Rather worryingly, given the fact that Indonesia's beautiful mountains, ancient temples, and azure blue waters are surely enough to keep even the most insistent boozehound sated, Sukamdani added: "No matter how beautiful the country is, if they can't find alcohol, they won't want to come here."

The proposed law isn't the first move Indonesian authorities have made to limit the sale of alcohol. Last year, a ban on the sale of certain alcoholic drinks by small retailers was introduced, meaning that food stalls and convenience shops across the country could no longer sell pre-mixed drinks or beer.

Indonesian liquor sellers (and, presumably, anyone in the country who has ever seen The Untouchables) have warned that banning alcohol would lead to a rise in bootleg booze. Indeed the country has already seen tourists death caused by cheap alcohol cut with methanol.

READ MORE: How to Drink Moonshine in Bali

However some are skeptical as to whether the nationwide booze ban would actually go ahead. Taylor said that it may only be brought into force in provinces with strict governments, such as East Java and North Sumutra. Bali, on the other hand, has a mostly Hindu population and therefore less strict attitudes towards alcohol.

Taylor told news.com.au: "In my view, I think that nationally, the bill won't get up. I don't think in the Indonesian government there's enough support for it. Moderation is a better way to go because they need tourists to go to Indonesia and tourists having a glass of wine or a Bintang [Beer] won't do any harm."

Time will tell just how harmful Indonesia's lawmakers deem that bottle of Bintang to be.

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